As a young boy I played incessantly with dinosaur toys and created elaborate fantasy worlds. While this is not uncommon, I cannot help but recall how desperately I wished to remain in those worlds and how disappointed I felt when I was called back to reality. I imagined how I would survive in a prehistoric world and as insanely childish as it might sound, I thought that I would befriend a Tyrannosaurus Rex who would protect me. My life was so bereft of anything worthwhile and, resourceful child that I was, I found a way to survive with my dinosaur friends.
As an older boy I set up a large wooden board in the backyard and painted a strike zone upon it. I pitched baseballs against it and imagined I played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After every imaginary batter I would walk over to a notebook and record the result. I created imaginary statistics for my imaginary world. In an effort to make this fantasy world more realistic I even built failure into it: the occasionally bad day where my imaginary opponent would best me. At the end of every “game” I would sit down and calculate my Earned Run Average. The other day I threw a rubber ball against a wall forgetting that I was adept at catching it with scarcely a glance because I spent years playing catch with myself. Would that the math skills had lived on but, alas (and not surprisingly), I lost the most useful aspect of this period and its accompanying income potential.
In adolescence these fantasies were replaced by romantic ones. While developmentally appropriate, I realize in retrospect, that these were merely extensions of the childhood fantasies. In these scenarios I was a lost and misunderstood soul who would be saved by falling in love with another lonely misunderstood soul. We would run away and our love would sustain us forever. Never again would we feel misunderstood or lonely. In reality, I allowed my adolescence to pass without so much as hugging a peer.
As I grew older my ability to romanticize and escape into fantasy worlds became more sophisticated. So sophisticated that I could bring to life inanimate objects and carry on dialogues in my head with people real and imagined. When the pain got to be too much I would disappear into these worlds and numb myself out.
It is only recently that I grew dissatisfied with this way of being in the world (or rather of not being in the world). I chased the fantasies away and decided to try my hand at living. But sometimes I lose sight of how to do this whole living thing. In this area I am still so very young. It is, I imagine, like giving up a drug addiction: happy to no longer use but struck by how dull life can seem when compared to being high. I spent so much of my life wanting to be elsewhere that I never learned to fully appreciate what was there in front of me.
When things are going well it is a much more satisfying way of life: I breath in what is around me and feel deeply fulfilled. At these times I need very little and long for even less. The breeze on my skin or a lovely smile are enough to sustain me. But then I lose the thread and I don’t quite know what to make of life. I feel empty. Lost. It is a sort of limbo state between fantasy and reality. I feel restless and dissatisfied. I long for a drug that is no longer available.
One of the most painful things about all of this is the realization that nothing and nobody can save me: neither a fantasy nor a friend nor a love interest. To be loved is to have smiling faces on the shore as I struggle to stay afloat a raging sea. It is deeply meaningful to look over and see those smiling faces, but ultimately it is me out there facing those waves alone. It is my own resources upon which I must rely. Resources I have not yet developed.
The last sentence brought tears to my eyes so I know that I have hit on what is so painful and vulnerable about all of this: I am a 48 year old man who is still learning how to cope with life without his chosen drug. Developmentally delayed. A kid without his dinosaurs.